The Stress of It All

In a week I will be in Cuba. The sun will shine, the humility high, the smell of diesel engines everywhere. I will spend a week with my Cuban family and I will be at home.

Cuba has been in the news a lot lately. More and more people are getting to visit. In the long run these tourists will be good or bad for Cubans, depending on how you look at things. This will be my 3rd trip in the last 2 years. The church I serve has a sister church there since 1999.

When I go to Cuba it is like coming home to a family who has done nothing but sit around and missed me. Of course this is not true but it feels that way. I have a Cuban madre (mother), a cuban novio (boyfriend who is at least 70) and hermanos y hermanas (brothers and sisters).

They are people just like we are, they have hopes and dreams just like we do. They carry a burden of abandonment, of hardship, of oppression. But they do not want our pity.

As I prepare I am collecting the usual things – chocolate to bring, extra shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant. Writing a sermon to be translated into Spanish and I am pulling summer clothes from the closet, but what I am most preparing is my soul.

1422399_10203198787072619_1253925515_nWhen I arrive in Cuba I will arrive on a 747 will all the luxuries and technology of a chartered plane. I will walk through a Caribbean airport and security and then into a parking lot full of cars from 1962. I will be greeted with warm hugs and probably more than a few tears will be shed, a sigh of relief will come from my being. I am in good, loving hands.

The rest of week will be rest, visits, food, worship, prayer, travel, and leading “my people” through the journey of their own spirituality. I will be on Cuban time, there’s no hurry, no stress about being late, no worry at all. I will talk to others about hardship, about cancer, about lack of access.

I will probably play volleyball and dance, I will get yelled at for not covering my very pale skin in the sun (the concept of sunscreen is a little hard to explain to some). I will get stares in the marketplace for my skin color and a few colorful calls for the same reason, children will want to touch my hair and skin and I will smile and delight.

I will have no contact with my family and friends for a week, I will be, in a different world. I tell my family, if something happens, just don’t bother trying to contact me, there’s nothing I can do about it. No phone, no internet, nothing distracting you but the person in front of you and the beauty of the world.

In therapy this morning I was describing this world, the problem is not letting go. It’s coming home.

When that plane lands in Miami I thrill and turn my iphone on immediately. I can’t wait to get home and hold my little people and connect with my friends, but when you spend a week away from the stress of life, it’s crushing to come home to it. Credit Cards, finances, work in the second week of Advent, access to everything and anything I want at any moment. Cars, phone, internet, OH MY!

For people who have had pain management you will understand this metaphor- the plane landing is like the pain medication wearing off. Slowly the weight of life returns. The stress of it all feels unbearable.

I am nervous of this feeling. I am scared and anxious about returning home in the midst of Advent, the stress of Christmas. Truth is, it wouldn’t matter, Christmas or not, the abundance of my life is crushing and I need to figure out how to handle it better, period.

Truth is, being in Cuba just holds up the mirror of life. “You do too much,” it says, “slow down, breathe, live.” but in America, that too feels like pressure.

Empathy and the Nursing Home

In my freshman year of college I was a student at the University of Memphis in Memphis, TN.  There was no religion major and almost all the Christian based groups on campus were baptist (the ones that weren’t were still very conservative).  There was however a small religion department made up of two Jewish Professors and a secretary.  Needless to say, I spent all my free time in their offices.

An opportunity like no other arose that year to take a class and for 10days over spring break travel to Israel.  So I signed up, somehow found $7,000 dollars and packed my bags.  We landed in what felt like middle of the night in Tel Aviv.  That night two other girls and I sneaked out of the hotel and walked along the Mediterranean Sea.  We took of our shoes, ran our hands across the pebbles and as the cool water of the Mediterranean hit my feet I knew there was something holy to this place.  That feeling continued until I got on a plane a week later. To this day when I close my eyes and think about it, the memory and the feeling remains strong.

The Holy Land is not the only place to have ever had this effect on me, when I left Memphis and people would ask me how I liked it there, I would say, “It was nice to live in a city with soul”. I have experienced that in other places too- New Orleans, New York City, rural Kentucky, the mountains of North Carolina.  They each have a different story and a different experience, but there is something about certain places.

Since my first experience with feeling life from a place, rather than a person, I have grown to cultivate my sensitivity to it.  Yes, what I feel from a place absolutely has to do with what is going on in my life, but it also has to do with what is going on in that place, its history and its present people. Ultimately, it comes down to empathy.  I am very sensitive to what is going on around me, it is part of my personality.  I am intuitive and empathetic to a fault. I believe in what Carl Jung wrote of the collective unconscious and know that we are all linked by a common creator.  What lives in me, though different, lives in you too and we are the same.

Which brings me to today.  Today was my monthly visits to the nursing home. Thankfully I only have two in nursing homes at the moment and they are not only in the same home, but, in my opinion, the nicest in town.  I used to think that I didn’t like nursing homes because of the smell and starkness of the halls and rooms.  But this place has no strong “nursing home smell” and the decor is actually quite lovely.  The staff is friendly and helpful, but I still cry in my car every time I leave.

Yes, I was there to visit parishioners whom I love and have cared for these last 6 years, but the crying is not about them, the overwhelming sadness comes from this place.  There are smiles in the halls along with cried for help, but I have come to believe it is the place that holds the sadness.  Maybe I’m crazy, but the place is full on hope that has died, a place of limbo, a purgatory on earth is you will.  There is still life in the people, but the hope is no longer there.  So I admit I leave each time feeling defeated.  I blame it on empathy, sometimes I wish it would go away, but mostly I am thankful for the experience. I know that a piece of these places lives in me and because of that, can be transformed into hope.  After that is, it is released through tears in my car…